COMOROS — The Comoro islands, or Comoros, are located in the Indian Ocean between Mozambique and Madagascar. These semi-autonomous islands are home to nearly 734,900 people—a population that is among the poorest in Africa.
Yes there is malnutrition in Comoro. Ever since the country declared independence from France in 1975, political leaders have attempted more than 20 coups. These often-violent government seizures took place in less than 30 years. It was not until 2001 that Comoros finally regained stability. The 2001 constitution declared greater autonomy to the Grand Comore, Anjouan and Moheli islands.
Even so, the country’s abusive past has made it vulnerable to government corruption and criminal networks. Comoros heavily depends on foreign aid.
Malnutrition is a major issue within the islands. More than 42 percent of Comorian children age five and under suffer from chronic malnutrition, and one out of every five children suffer from severe malnutrition.
At a glance, Comoros has a life expectancy at birth of 65 years, a 105 per 1,000 live births under-five mortality rate and a 19 out of 136 global ranking for stunting prevalence. The Comoros’ Human Development Index (HDI) ranking is 139th out of 182 countries.
More than one-third of child deaths are the result of very poor nutrition. About 44 percent of children under the age of five are stunted, or prevented from growing or developing normally. Common causes for stunting include a lack of essential nutrients, infrequent eating, low energy content of foods, contaminated food and water, or unsafe storage and preparation of foods. Eight percent of children are also wasted, or at low weight in proportion to their height, and 25 percent are underweight.
The World Bank estimated that providing a healthy diet in Comoros would cost less than $400,000 USD per year, and it listed the five key actions to address malnutrition: expand nutrition capacities within the Ministries of Health and Agriculture; improve infant and young child diet education through instruction and counseling services; implement multiple solutions to reduce anemia including multiple micronutrient sachets for young children and iron supplementation for pregnant women; achieve universal salt iodization; improve dietary diversity through promoting local agriculture and infrastructure development.
The World Bank’s three primary causes of under-nutrition in Comoros are poor infant feeding practices, high disease burden and limited access to nutritious foods. About 75 percent of newborns do not receive breast milk within one hour of birth, which is essential for safe and healthy development, and immunity defense. Malnutrition at an early age can lead to lower resistance to infections and potentially fatal diseases. Providing special services such as “deworming, zinc supplements during and after diarrhea, and continued feeding during illness” are crucial to regain health according to the World Bank. In Comoros, more than half of the population is food insecure, which means they do not have equal or continual access to food. Improving agricultural efficiencies and social protection policies are some ways to make nutritious diets available for more people.
Thankfully, progress is ahead. On March 19, 2015, the World Bank Group’s Board of Executive Directors approved the $6 million USD International Development Association (IDA) grant, aimed at helping 6,000 families living in extreme poverty. The project will increase the amount of safety nets and access to nutritional foods for the people of the Comoros.
The Comoros Social Safety Nets Project hopes to not only reduce hunger, but also establish long-term resilience to economic, environmental and social changes. According to the World Bank press release, the funds will protect “communities’ productive assets,” “increase their resilience to climate change” and “improve the nutrition of young children and mothers from poor communities.” The goal is to serve 60 communities and help 9,200 children age five and under obtain stable food security.
– Lin Sabones
Sources: World Bank (1), BBC, UNICEF, World Bank (2), World Bank (3), World Health Organization
Photo: Inter Press Service